It is said, that to continue to do the same thing will get you the same result. Let’s look at where we are and see if we want to stay here. Whenever you read in social media or a newspaper or hear on radio, TV, “housing starts are up,” or “ housing starts are down,” you are getting information that is a snapshot indicator of the economy. In Lawton, housing starts are down 87% compared to 2010. That is an indicator of the local economy. The population is down over 4% and that is the estimate by the U.S. Census, and measured recently from 2010. Water account data from the City would show that it is down further from 2007, 2008 and 2009. Population decline takes the bottom out of the housing market, and the result has been a decline in home values of 10 — 14% according to local real estate experts.
Most cities would be up 10% or more on home values over the same period. But, if you live in Lawton, your home’s value is down. Most of the population’s largest asset is their home. Another result is that 25% of all mortgages in Lawton are underwater. That means that the market value is lower than the mortgage. Last year, for the first time in modern history, the County’s assessment level has dropped.
Now back to the original thought. Do we want to stay where we are with this financial status? Do you want to settle for your home being down 10-14% in value instead of up? Are you happy if you are the one in four whose home is underwater? I don’t believe this is what we want. But, there has been no plan presented, until now. The CIP is the plan that can get us turned in the right direction and it does it by addressing a multi-faceted challenge with a multi-faceted approach.
So, that is the “why” of a CIP. Let’s look at “why an extension, instead of a new CIP?” and “why now?” Those are good questions and the answers to these questions are also good. A new CIP would require either a new tax, which I don’t think anyone wants, or waiting until 2025, and our home values can’t wait any longer, as we are losing money daily. It must be addressed now!
In order to provide you with a valued option, let me list some of the things that need to be addressed if we want to attract industry and young individuals and families. Does anyone really believe that we can attract industry if we cannot attract young people?
• Our average school population has been declining, while neighboring districts have been increasing, indicating that we have allowed ourselves to become a place young individuals and families do not want to live.
• Last year was an ugly year for crime and we have not addressed crime prevention. Adding more police has been necessary, but crime is still something that is scaring potential families off. There was a crime prevention program that cut juvenile crime 26%, but the council did not find a way to fund it when the grant ran out. Crime went back up.
• There have been a lot of parents that have contacted council members complaining about the condition of the ball fields and parks. A recent presentation by the Parks and Recreation Department revealed that we may be as much as $50 million behind in parks maintenance. A study is needed to know more. Kids are playing on ballparks that have not been upgraded since the 1960s. This is not very inviting for young families.
• Industrial Development experts have told us that we must get ready for industry. They will not wait on us to hold an election and then plan on doing the work over the next several years. Think about it, the engineering alone would take two years. Does anyone really think they would wait that long?
There are critical infrastructure needs like failing water and sewer lines, Lee Boulevard, and other streets, and sidewalks that don’t present well to potential residents.
The CIP extension will address each of the obstacles to growth and give us the ability to start now. We can’t do all the work at once, but we can get started. And getting started will show industry and our community that we are moving in the right direction.
The CIP is the only plan that has been put forth to address the economic challenge that we face today. There is no other plan that addresses all these challenges in a way that moves us forward without new taxes. It is a multi-faceted answer to a multi-faceted challenge. We can only face this economic challenge, together.
The CIP extension (not new taxes) must happen now. Our declining home values cannot wait any longer.
Stan Booker is mayor of Lawton.